Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
Raking The Beach
by Marion Agnew
I think I owe my mother an apology.
Every summer, I'd sit ten feet from Lake Superior in a chair in front of our family's summer cottage, enjoying the cool lake breeze on my face and in the birches behind me.
Inevitably, my mother would get up from the chair next to mine to pull out the grass and sweet peas that meandered down the beach toward the water. Sometimes she'd get a leaf rake and gather bits of driftwood, dried reeds, leaves, and other flotsam into piles, which she then pitched into the surrounding forest.
"Mo-therrr," I'd say, my adult voice re-visiting adolescence. "It's a beach. It's supposed to have stuff on it." I just wanted her to sit down so that I could laze about in peace, without feeling guilty.
"Caring for a place like this takes a lot of work," my mother would reply in her Teacher Voice. Every summer, visitors—family or not—participated in some kind of upkeep project, with varying degrees of sportsmanship. Throughout the years, I helped lop evergreen branches, shovel wheelbarrow loads of dirt to level the road, and paint the cottage's exterior and interior many times over.
All the while, I'd groan—-sometimes inwardly, sometimes audibly. As a reward for my reluctant involvement, I would demand time to sit in that chair on the beach, too.
My mother's ability to work decreased as she got older. During the last decade of her life, she wasn't able to keep up with the demands of the place. My life and the lives of my siblings were too complicated and busy to give the cottage the attention it deserved. We tried. It took me two summer vacations to get a coat of paint on the whole exterior. Painting two small interior rooms ate up another summer vacation. But it was too big a job, and our property became forlorn.
Now that I live near the cottage, I have the opportunity to change that. This summer, I took a leaf rake to the beach and had accumulated two small piles of dead birch leaves, mixed with torn-up sweet peas and clumps of grass, before I realized that I was channeling my mother.
Yes, it's a beach. I want it to look natural, like a beach. But it didn't look natural—it looked bedraggled and unloved. A little cleanup work made it that much more enjoyable to sit, finally, in the chair and enjoy the breeze off the water.
Being a good steward of our property is hard work. It's also the most rewarding work I do. When I prune a tree or water the flowers, I honor my mother's memory. It's not the same as an apology, but then, she wouldn't accept one anyway.
She might be really pleased to see me using a leaf rake, though.
Marion Agnew lives and writes in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where there is always outdoor work to do.
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